How to Make a Comb-back Windsor Chair w Curtis Buchanan

My woodworking career began with logs. I first made lots of ladderback chairs for several years, then in 1987 I spent a week as a student in Curtis Buchanan’s first Windsor chair class at Country Workshops, run by Drew Langsner in Marshall, N.C. The following summer, I was an intern at Drew’s place, so got to sit in on Curtis’ next class. That time, I didn’t make the chair again, but tried to soak up the content that was over my head the year before. After that, I would regularly write or call Curtis for more plans, details and chairmaking tips. I eventually made somewhere around 50 Windsors before detouring into joinery and oak furniture. Every blog post I write here is composed while sitting in my copy of Curtis’ comback arm chair that I made about 1990.

Curtis w student at his shop in Jonesborough
Curtis w student at his shop in Jonesborough

I was quite surprised when I opened the mail the other day & received a set of DVDs from Curtis, along with 3 pages of full-sized plans for making the current version of his comback arm chair…

comback Windsor chair, Curtis Buchanan


Maybe you’ve seen Curtis’ videos on Youtube, but now you can get the full set directly from him in a binder. It’s broken down into 10 discs, amounting to around 11 hours of video. There is an additional disc that has more than 30 photographic views of the completed chair from almost every conceivable angle. These are home-made videos. If you have ever met Curtis, then you know what to expect. It’s just as if you were watching him explain the process as he makes the chair. I’ve done several how-to videos, and no matter how much practice I have at explaining my craft, to stare into the camera’s lens and talk to it is weird. Curtis tried a professional video production once, but quickly realized that it’s not his style. But don’t confuse informality with un-professional. Curtis really teaches you how he makes this chair, step by step…if I had any room at home, I’d take a shot at making another. 


Just to be clear, I did not buy these discs. Curtis sent them to me gratis. I have always been struck by his generosity, and have tried to keep it in mind as I have been an instructor and teacher for the past several years. Curtis always shared his drawings and plans whenever I asked, I remember him telling me that’s what Dave Sawyer did for him, and so he did it for others. For all I know, these videos might still be up on Youtube for free. But if you are interested in chairmaking, or want to be, I’d say buy the set from Curtis. They are very reasonably priced, and if you opt for the drawings too, then you’ll be well on your way. Curtis still teaches down at his home shop in Jonesborough, Tennessee, just about the quaintest place you can imagine. Here’s the link – buy the discs under the tab for “classes”

One of the best thrills I had in recent years was when I taught a box-making class at Drew’s and Curtis came to be a student. After 20 years, I finally had something I could give him.

7 thoughts on “How to Make a Comb-back Windsor Chair w Curtis Buchanan

  1. Actually Peter, the videos are still posted on his site. Since I exclusively use and ipad, the DVDs are less useful. Rick

  2. Hey Peter, great post. The first photo of Curtis and student took me right back to my time in his workshop in Jonesborough where I had my first lesson in making Windsors. My experience was just as your was, with Curtis sharing patterns and information freely. I left with much more than idea of how to make a Continuous Arm Chair. That week with Curtis was the beginning of my wood working journey which now sees me making chairs for a living on the other side of the world and sharing my knowledge with others in the same way. I reckon a set of those DVD’s in my workshop would be just the thing for everyone to experience. Cheers Glen

  3. These are terrific videos. I believe I have watched the whole series twice and several of my favorite “episodes” many more times than that. The favorites are usually when Curtis has the drawknife in his hands.
    The drawknife is the tool that hooked me a couple years back. My wife would tell you I don’t make very much with it except shavings. She is mostly right. But Oh why a glorious and fragrant pile of shavings.
    In online interviews I have seen both Curtis and Brian Boggs state that one of the primary reasons they became chairmakers was the simplicity and low cost of the tools and materials necessary to get started. Those statements along with Curtis’ series are very encouraging to a recent initiate who is picking up tools at the flea market and (as much I would like too) won’t be attending anyones classes in the near future.
    The books by Mr Langsner, Underhill, and Ms. Alexander are invaluable but there is something about ‘watching’ Curtis doing delicate work with the knife that is unique and fascinating. I know I cannot yet execute those cuts but while watching I become transfixed and can almost feel the knife in my own hands. I am positive these videos have improved my technique. Much in the same way your Swedish spooncarving episodes on TWWS improved my knife skills. And spooncarving has improved my understanding of wood/grain immensely.

    Brian Boggs

  4. What I meant to say is that I can watch the vids on my ipad through Curtis’s site. I have and really enjoyed them. My current project is setting up a handtool shop to do just that sort of work. By the way, the reason I was among the first to remark is because your blog is at the top of my (soon to be gone) Google Reader. Thanks for the good work you do in the shop and on the interwebs.


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